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Indianapolis Colts 2015 Positional Preview: Wide Receiver

As we approach training camp, Stampede Blue’s Josh Wilson takes a position-by-position look at the Indianapolis Colts. Today, we look at the wide receivers.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 season will be an exciting one for the Indianapolis Colts without a doubt, and a large reason for that will be their passing game.  But it will also be a very strange one, at least when the season first begins.  The reason?  This season will represent the first time since 1995 that neither Marvin Harrison nor Reggie Wayne have been on the roster to open the season.  For the past 19 seasons, the Colts have had at least one wideout who stands a good chance to one day get into the Hall of Fame.  One of the last connections to the marvelous Peyton Manning era is gone.  The Colts decided this offseason to move on from fan favorite Reggie Wayne.

It wasn't an easy decision, to be sure, but it might have been the right one.  Wayne's struggles over the second half of last season were impossible to miss, and while a large part of it might really have been due to injury, he just wasn't getting it done anymore.  The Colts made the hard decision to move on from one of the greatest players in their franchise's history.

Luckily for Indy, however, is that they don't have a void at the receiver spot.  Fourth-year wideout T.Y. Hilton has been the team's best receiver for the past two years and has been playing as their number one receiver for the past season and a half.  He made the Pro Bowl in 2014 and has been terrific, and when you look at the great start his career is off to compared to Harrison and Wayne through their first three years, it's pretty impressive.

Colts receivers through first three seasons
GP GS Receptions Yards TD Yards Per Catch Yards Per Game
Marvin Harrison (1996-1998) 44 42 196 2,478 21 12.6 56.3
Reggie Wayne (2001-2003) 45 32 144 1,899 11 13.2 42.2
T.Y. Hilton (2012-2014) 46 26 214 3,289 19 15.4 71.5

With Hilton at receiver, the Colts have a legitimate threat and have one of the top receivers in the league.  He's Andrew Luck's favorite target and deservedly so.  He is entering a contract year and wants a new deal, but that might be extra motivation for him in 2015 and there's little doubt that he's expected to be back long-term after this year as well.

At many points over the past two years, however, it has been all up to Hilton at wide receiver, with the second-best receiving option on the team being tight end Coby Fleener.  Last year, Hilton caught 18 more passes and 566 more yards than the second-leading pass catcher on the team, and though he didn't lead the team in touchdowns, he did rack up three more than any other wide receiver.  In 2013, Hilton caught 30 more passes, 475 more yards, and one more touchdown than any other player on the Colts.  He has been the only consistent receiving threat on the team, but the Colts went about changing that this offseason and have put together a pretty impressive group around Hilton.

Obviously, Andre Johnson has received a lot of attention this offseason, and for good reason.  In his career, Johnson has caught 1,012 passes for 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns, and that all while playing with subpar quarterback talent.  He turns 34 years old tomorrow and his age is a concern to some, but he still has good play left in the tank and is an upgrade over Reggie Wayne at this point in his career.  And remember that in Wayne's age-34 season, he caught 106 passes and 1,355 yards and five scores from Luck, so that age doesn't mean that a receiver stops being productive.  It's entirely unreasonable to expect that out of Johnson in 2015, but that has more to do with the other receiving talent on the team than Johnson.  The veteran will have a big role in the offense and should have a good season this year.

The Colts also have some young and talented receivers who will be competing for the third receiver spot in second-year player Donte Moncrief and rookie Phillip Dorsett.  Moncrief played in every game in his rookie season (19, including playoffs) and started three, catching 37 passes for 530 yards and four scores, averaging 14.3 yards per reception (all including the postseason).  He still needs to work on becoming a well-rounded receiver but presents a deep threat right away and there is a lot to like about Moncrief.  After a pretty good rookie season, he'll be looking for an even bigger role and more success in 2015.

To win the third wide receiver job, however, he'll have to beat out the Colts' first round draft pick this year, Phillip Dorsett.  Selected out of Miami, Dorsett is a very fast speedster who is a dynamic playmaker.  He played in 45 games at Miami, starting 30, and racked up 121 catches for 2,132 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 17.6 yards per reception.  Over his final two seasons, he averaged 23.3 yards per catch - the most in the FBS.  Dorsett also provides a threat with his speed, as he can beat defenses deep and can also make plays with the ball in his hands.  There's a lot to like about Dorsett as well.  Regardless of which one of these two receivers ends up winning the third spot on the depth chart, they are both likely to factor significantly into the offense's plans and get plenty of reps.

After those two players, the Colts have two other players who were signed this offseason who would appear to have an advantage over the others competing for a roster spot.  The signing of Duron Carter received quite a bit of attention earlier this offseason, and fans were excited about his potential.  The team signed him after two seasons in the CFL with the Montreal Allouettes, where he caught 124 passes for 1,939 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 15.6 yards per catch.  He is a bit raw and will need to adjust to the NFL level some, but he has the physical talent to be a good receiver.  The Colts seem like a great fit for him, as he won't have the immediate pressure to perform but will still get some opportunities in an offense led by quarterback Andrew Luck.

Carter will have to work to earn his roster spot, however, and Vincent Brown might be an intriguing candidate to compete with him - at least for the fifth spot on the depth chart.  Entering just his fifth year in the league, Brown is technically the second-most experienced Colts receiver on the roster (behind Johnson), though T.Y. Hilton has played in more games and has far surpassed his production.  With both the Chargers and the Raiders, Brown has played in 37 games (starting 16) and has caught 72 passes for 919 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 12.8 yards per reception.  He's nothing special, but he will be competing for the fifth receiver spot and a place on the 53-man roster.

And of course, we can't forget about fan favorite Griff Whalen either.  Playing with the Colts on and off for the past two years, Whalen has appeared in 19 games (starting 3) and has caught 26 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 10.8 yards per catch.  He has also served as the Colts' return man, something that can't hurt his chances at making the roster but something he's likely not going to be doing next year, barring an injury.  Whalen's best shot at making the roster seems to be if the Colts keep six receivers.  I think Duron Carter will end up making the team, and then if they keep six receivers I think Whalen could compete with Brown for the spot.  But the team keeping six receivers is no guarantee at all and very much up in the air, as is Whalen's shot at making the 53-man roster.

Undrafted receivers Quan Bray, Ezell Ruffin, and Tyler Rutenbeck, along with Ryan Lankford (who was in camp with the Colts last year and was on their practice squad in 2014) will be competing in training camp and preseason as well, but they face a significant uphill battle to make the roster because of the other players ahead of them on the depth chart.  While that's the unfortunate reality for them, the good news is that they'll get to spend some time working with Andrew Luck, and then get the chance to try to impress other teams.

The wide receiver position for the Colts in 2015, quite simply, looks very good.  T.Y. Hilton is one of the league's best, and Andre Johnson is a borderline Hall of Famer once he hangs up the cleats - though he still has some gas left in the tank.  There is a lot to like about Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett, and then even Duron Carter posses a lot of talent to work with.  And while neither Vincent Brown nor Griff Whalen are great players, they could be solid possession receivers buried on the depth chart in case the Colts need them.  Andrew Luck has to be liking what he sees when he looks at his receiver position heading into his fourth season.

For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' roster heading into camp, check out Josh Wilson's other position previews:

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